Draper charter is first to close after COVID-19 outbreak; Utah Military Academy follows

(Photo courtesy of American Preparatory Academy) Pictured is American Preparatory Academy in Draper.

A Draper charter has become the first school in Utah to be forced to close due to a COVID-19 outbreak. And a second charter has chosen to shut its doors after a smaller cluster of cases among staff.

American Preparatory Academy’s Draper 1 campus shut down Tuesday and learning will now shift online, confirmed Carolyn Sharette, the charter’s executive director. The move comes after 15 students and staff there tested positive for the virus less than two weeks after it had reopened.

“We’re just pivoting,” Sharette said. “I assume this will happen at all schools eventually.”

Utah Military Academy at Camp Williams in Lehi, a charter where students are referred to as cadets, also decided to close after nine faculty members there tested positive, according to an email sent to staff this week and shared with The Salt Lake Tribune. Administrators there could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But the note to employees mentioned that it had become difficult to continue running classrooms with so many teachers out sick; everyone there will now also move to remote learning.

“We know that a fully online effort is not ideal, but we also know that potentially more adults and then cadets may contract this virus which will cause worse issues if we fail to act,” the academy’s superintendent, Darren Beck, wrote.

The Utah Department of Health has advised that schools should only shut down after 15 individuals have tested positive and their cases appear to be connected. And then, the closure should be for two weeks, the incubation period of the virus. For a single classroom to go online, there would need to be three people with COVID-19 in the same time frame.

American Preparatory met that threshold. But schools, like Utah Military Academy, can determine their own plans for staying open or moving online.

Schools began reopening across the state beginning early last month after encouragement from the governor to welcome students back.

Sharette said the infected students and teachers at American Preparatory are now isolating. Anyone who was in close contact with them — defined as within 6 feet of an individual with the coronavirus for more than 15 minutes — has been asked to quarantine.

“We’re following the recommendations from the health department,” she added.

As of now, she said, the charter hopes to be able to have students return again on Sept. 11. They will be doing their classes remotely until that is determined.

Sharette said that will impact about 65% of the roughly 600 students at the Draper campus who had elected to return in person this fall. The school, located at 12892 S. Pony Express Road, is one of seven American Preparatory sites in Utah. The one impacted covers grades 1-6. Others, that include junior high and high school students, are not closing.

In its reopening plan submitted to the state — which all schools were required to create — APA directors maintained that opening in person was critical for learning.

They wrote: “Students need to be in school if it is at all possible. Issues of student academic loss, student mental health deterioration, and lack of supervision for students as parents return to work are real and significant factors which support the need for students to be in school.”

The plan also says, in part, that “students in the age-band of K-12 schools are not considered by the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] to be high-risk individuals for COVID-19.” Most studies have found that younger kids face serious complications from the virus less often than adults, but they can still carry it and pass it on to older adults.

And educators are considered high-risk for getting sick from the coronavirus because of their age or existing health conditions.

At Utah Military Academy, everyone will be out of the school until Sept. 21. It had opened three weeks ago. The school’s separate campus at Hill Air Force Base in Ogden was not impacted. Both teach students in grades 7-12.

The temporary shutdown of the two charters comes one day after a Utah County high school shifted to a hybrid schedule after a smaller “cluster” of cases there. Pleasant Grove High School will close for two days and then reopen Thursday with a mix of online and in-person classes.

Alpine School District — the largest in the state — has declined to say how many infections prompted the change there. But the district, overall, has confirmed 67 active cases over its 91 schools; of those, 41 are students and 26 are faculty. The hope with the shift to hybrid teaching is to reduce the number of students in the school at one time and slow the spread of the virus.

Since Utah public schools began opening Aug. 13, they have reported 14 outbreaks affecting 76 patients. There was a surge of five new outbreaks reported Tuesday.

From the beginning of the pandemic, there have been 121 patients infected in 25 school outbreaks, with an average age of 18. Seven of those patients have been hospitalized. None has died.